Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Not even the best in Ohio

The Associated Press Society of Ohio awards prizes in five classes, based on the circulation of the newspaper. The Enquirer competes against just five other newspapers for prizes -- the Akron Beacon-Journal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Columbus Dispatch, the Dayton Daily News and the Toledo Blade.

The competition gives three awards for General Excellence, so each paper has a 50-50 chance of getting at least a mention. It's a coin flip.

When the awards were handed out this weekend, the Enquirer lost. First place for General Excellence went to Cleveland, second to Akron and third to Columbus.

In all, there were 109 awards in 31 categories. The Enquirer won 19 awards, including six first-place awards, including Best Business Writer (Alexander Coolidge), Best Investestigative Reporting (imagine that, for a package on eminent domain) and Best Web Site. The Enquirer was strongest in photography, where it won three firsts for Best Spot News Photo, Best General News Photo and Best Photographer -- all for Glenn Hartong, who deserves the recognition.

That's the good news. The big winner was the Columbus Dispatch, which won 30 awards and eight firsts. The Cleveland Plain Dealer won 28 awards and 11 firsts. The Enquirer was shut out in 14 categories, including General Excellence, Best Columnist, Best Feature and Best Community Service.

In 15 categories where writing and reporting were most important, including "best section" awards, the Enquirer didn't do well -- just two firsts and eight awards overall. The Dispatch received 16 awards and seven firsts. The Plain Dealer: 14 awards and three firsts. There were four awards given for Best Community Service. Columbus won the top two, followed by Akron and Dayton. Cincinnati's over-the-top Marcus Fiesel coverage -- clearly the paper's highest priority story since August -- got an honorable mention for Best Breaking News. The Enquirer also won a second in that category for its coverage of the shooting involving rapper T.I.

I point this out to show just how weak the Enquirer's news operation has become. Start with 19 awards. Take out seven that went to photo, four to sports, and one each to the web site, Borgman and the recently departed Byron McCauley. That means the heart of the news operation won just five awards, and two of those were honorable mentions. There were zero for features, graphics and headlines.

This is a newspaper that doesn't know how to excel. I'm not sure it wants to.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

NBC News and Seung-Hui Cho

This is off topic, but it was the biggest story of the week, and the criticism of NBC News for running video of the Virginia Tech mass murderer bothered me. This is my take:

We created Seung-Hui Cho. We created the mental health system that allowed a madman to walk the streets. We enacted the system of gun control laws that allowed a crazy person to buy guns. I could go on. Somehow we've taught parents to believe whatever ails their kids will be fixed once they're shipped off to college, when an antisocial nut like Cho should have been kept home and given help.

I was offended when I heard a critic say this morning on CNN's Reliable Sources that we learned nothing from NBC showing the video of Cho. Who the hell is he to tell me what I will or won't get out of a bit of film? Show me and let me decide. I think NBC News showed good restraint, airing only a fraction of the material they possessed.

We created Cho, and maybe, before we're moved to fix those things that enabled him, we have to look into his eyes and see what his victims saw as he pulled the trigger. We are a society that would rather have its mistakes swept under the rug, in the name of protecting the victims or protecting our children. As a result we don't face up to our problems, and we'll rehash these same arguments the next time a psycho goes nuts with guns. I applaud NBC News, and I hope the current criticism won't make our news media timid. Now let's do something about Cho.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Pulitzers. Big newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times won most of the awards, but know that winners included the Birmingham (Ala.) News and the LA Weekly. Finalists included the Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, the Louisville Courier-Journal (for the Comair crash), the Hartford Courant and the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. The Oregonian of Portland -- bigger than the Enquirer but not often considered one of the nation's major newspapers -- won one award and was a finalist for two others.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Real journalism alert

Bravo to Dan Horn and the Enquirer for the most enterprising piece of journalism we've seen in months. Horn's examination of death sentences reviewed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is good work, the kind of work we would expect to see more often from a metro newspaper. I read the story with skepticism, thinking as I'm reading, "what about this angle?" And Horn would address it.
The Enquirer, however, seems to have set a limit, that no story, no matter how big and important, will take up more than one page of the newspaper. This limit on story length also sets a limit on the Enquirer's ambition. Horn's finding that judges here seem to decide death penalty cases along party lines could be extended to many other kinds of cases as well -- immigration, terrorism, drugs, white-collar crime. The story should have gone farther in looking at the decisions of particular judges to see if they're just automatically taking one side or the other without good reasoning. Alice Batchelder or Nathaniel Jones might have been good candidates for this. Lastly, a finding like this is more powerful if it has some predictive value. Could the Enquirer have listed pending cases and the judges assigned to those cases, to project the outcome? That would have been cool. You know the lawyers in those cases have already done this, and such a listing would have reinforced to the judges that the Enquirer is a now a watchdog of these decisions.
I'm not faulting Dan Horn, who is a very capable journalist. He produced a very good story in the space he was afforded. Maybe he did propose a more ambitious project and his editors rejected it. Maybe he thought about proposing a more ambitious project, but didn't because he knew his editors wouldn't go for it. Maybe you can think of this story as a baby step, but a newspaper that's been around for 165 years should be beyond taking baby steps.
And why just Cincinnati and the 6th Circuit? This could have been a national story, and still could be, but can we expect the Enquirer to be that ambitious? I'm not optimistic. The last word to the Enquirer on today's good work should simply be: more.
Unfortunately, Horn's bright spot on the front page is dragged down by the pointless piece about the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Newspapers have been accused in the past of treating fundamentalists disrespectfully, and many of those complaints are legitimate. Today's story went too far in the other direction, implying on the front page of the biggest circulation paper of the week that this museum is a good thing because it has strengthened the faith of the people who work there, as if that's something we should all strive for.
This is not a front page story. Where publication of Horn's story restored a little bit of my faith in the Enquirer, placement of the creation museum story on the front page took it away. That story is about as unsophisticated and unskeptical as a story can get, and the Enquirer is pandering to somebody by putting it on the front page. A better candidate for the front page would have been Michael D. Clark's story on big high schools.

Friday, April 13, 2007

10 years later in Cincinnati

Why is this news? Starbucks has had drive-through lanes at least since 1997. That's nice free advertising for Starbucks, but how is it news? The Enquirer seems obsessed lately with restaurant openings. The paper's angle is that they give people with disposable income something to do, without any view of the low quality of the jobs they bring. Today's story on Cadillac Ranch coming to downtown tells much about the new restaurant except what the wages will be.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

The Society of Professional Journalists announced its Sigma Delta Chi award winners for 2006, and a newspaper won an award for editorials pointing out the deficiencies of its region's foster-care system, but it wasn't the Enquirer. It was the San Francisco Chronicle.

Two Cincinnati TV stations won awards. The awards are given in two groups -- to stations in top 25 markets, and to stations in all other markets. The latter group includes Cincinnati.
  • Investigative Reporting (all other markets): “Sham Dunk,” Jeff Hirsh, Eric Gerhardt and Dan Hurley, WKRC-TV, Cincinnati.
  • Feature Reporting (all other markets): “Journey for Justice,” Hagit Limor, Anthony Mirones and Bob Morford, WCPO-TV, Cincinnati. (I think this story is here.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Newspaper web site visitors

Editor and Publisher reports on the 30 most popular newspaper web sites. The Enquirer is not among them, and that's interesting. The Enquirer has been claiming 30 million or so page views per month, and its goal is to reach 50 million by the end of the year. That claimed current level of page views would put the Enquirer's web site around No. 10, with ChicagoTribune.com and NYPost.com, but it's not on the list at all. No. 30 is Philly.com, with 21 million page views in February. Other Gannett sites are listed: USAToday.com at No. 2, and AZcentral.com at No. 16. It could be that the Enquirer does not participate in the Nielsen/NetRatings surveys, but if that's the case, what makes the Enquirer's statistics credible?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More awards the Enquirer didn't win

For business coverage, from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. The Enquirer business section today reported a story that had been in the Cincinnati Business Courier on Friday. If the story was important enough to play across the top of the Business page, then it should have been important enough to get into the paper in a more timely manner.

Sports and sports and weather

Today's front page has to be the worst in recent memory. There's only one actual story, and it's about the weather, at the bottom of the page. Most of the front page is devoted to Opening Day, and there's nothing but blurbs -- no stories, only hints of news and refers to stories elsewhere in the paper. Among those who cared, who in Cincinnati didn't know by 6 p.m. that it was a beautiful day and that the Reds won? Across the top of the front page is more sports, refers to basketball news.

The front page has become a big index for the rest of the paper, and not a very good one at that because the paper is so small and because the Enquirer refuses to take hard news seriously. This is really depressing.

An editorial writer departs

Editorial writer Byron McCauley had tendered his resignation.
-----Original Message-----
From: Wells, David
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2007 12:38 PM
To: CIN-News Users; Callinan, Tom; Buchanan, Margaret ...
Subject: Byron McCauley

I am sorry to announce that Associate Editorial Page Editor Byron McCauley will be leaving the Enquirer on April 13 to take a position as executive speech writer at the Cintas Corp. Byron has been a tremendous asset to the Enquirer, the editorial board and to me personally in the four years he has been with us. His wisdom, thoughtfulness, humor and hard work will be missed very much. Please join me in wishing him all the best in his new career. One benefit he notes is that his new office is only 18 minutes and 46 seconds from his house, according to Map Quest.

Byron's departure creates an immediate opening on the editorial board in our editorial/community conversation operation. We are looking for a thoughtful, versatile and accomplished writer who understands the community conversation philosophy of reader engagement and participation. Anyone interested in discussing the position should contact me by e-mail. --David Wells

David Wells
Editorial Page Editor

This leaves the Enquirer without an African-American voice on the editorial board, at a time when the local NAACP is promising to be more active. Such voices are hard to come by in newspapers, and it won't be easy for a say-nothing editorial board to find a promising black writer willing to come aboard a sinking ship. And, there's no certainty the Enquirer, which is in continual cost-cutting mode, will fill the position.